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Illustration by Security Management

Gangs and Security Forces Clash Violently in Venezuela

Twenty-two suspected gang members and four police officers died, as well as an unspecified number of civilians, in clashes in Caracas, said Venezuelan Interior Minister Carmen Meléndez. Nearly 40 people have been injured.

Police and military forces exchanged gunfire with gang members for three days in the Cota 905 slum and several adjacent neighborhoods, according to The Washington Post. Security forces eventually gained enough access to the region to conduct raids and seize weapons, 24,000 rounds of ammunition, and an ocelot kitten—a threatened feline species.  

Approximately 800 security personnel were deployed to the scene, where the BBC reports they conducted house-to-house searches. Meléndez said that police had “advanced in the dismantling of the criminal structures that have settled in these territories with the intention of sowing terror.”

Gangs have been on the rise in Venezuela in recent years, particularly as President Nicolás Maduro struggles to assert state control. According to the Post, “analysts believe the gangs are attempting to gain broader territorial control amid a power vacuum fueled by lack of policing.”

The Venezuelan government has offered rewards of up to $500,000 for information leading to the detention of gang bosses, but the Post reported that the threat of retaliation hangs over the 300,000 Cota 905 residents. One told reporters that if he reports a gang crime, he will be killed.

Citizens of the neighborhood spent the days of conflict hiding under mattresses or in bathrooms; or if they could, they fled with their families and possessions to other areas of Caracas.  

The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela—caused by years of poverty, political unrest, and violence—threatens to destabilize the entire region, according to previous Security Management coverage. As of November 2020, the number of Venezuelan refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers stood at 5.4 million, according to the Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela. By the end of 2021, that is expected to rise to 8.13 million.